Cancer: A Love Story

Cancer: A Love Story

by Dave Faber


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Dave Faber and Robert McGehee were meant to be together: Less than two years after their first date, they were married.

They ate out together, went to movies, and did everything else a loving couple does. They even decided to train together for the Houston Marathon in 2006. Like every couple, they expected to face hard times, but neither was prepared for Robert's diagnosis of esophageal cancer. But just like everything else, this was a fight they would wage together.

After learning what he was up against, Robert suggested to Dave that he keep friends and family informed about their battle against the disease. This account draws on that correspondence and includes intimate details of their battle that may have otherwise been lost. Dave stands by Robert's side through surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and physical therapy. Throughout his illness, their intimacy and love for each other grows.

Whether you're suffering from a serious disease or illness or caring for someone who is, Dave and Robert's love story and spiritual journey will inspire you to keep your faith in each other and in the world around you even through the most difficult times.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781491749197
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 11/18/2014
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.65(d)

Read an Excerpt

Cancer: A Love Story

By Dave Faber


Copyright © 2014 Dave Faber
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4917-4919-7


We Begin

When you get a cancer diagnosis right before Christmas, people sympathize that it's a horrible time of year to hear such news. I don't think it matters when the diagnosis comes. It feels like it's taking your life away in an instant. You long to go back a few hours to when everything was fine. You know life will never be the same again. I hated the phrase "the new normal."

I cried initially on the way out to the car. I didn't see Robert cry that day. I tried to "get it together" a little bit so I could support Robert. Yet, I was the one who needed support. I don't remember doing so, but we went out for breakfast at Cracker Barrel because Robert hadn't had anything to eat before the procedure. Afterward, we shopped for a chandelier for Robert's mother, as Robert and his siblings had decided to give her one for her dining room for Christmas that year. We finally found what we wanted.

We went to lunch at Panera Bread Company at The Woodlands Mall. I asked Robert if it was okay for me to call my brother, Don, and tell him the news. It was hard to tell someone the first time, so I asked Don to tell my siblings.

Because we didn't want to spoil Christmas, we decided not to tell Robert's mother and family. The one exception was his sister Suzanne. I believe he called her that day.

I had usually been so good about sharing everything with Robert, but I wanted to try to be brave and not bring him down. I decided to Google esophageal cancer on the Internet and see what I could find out. In retrospect, that was not a good decision. I didn't know enough to be able to sift through what I found, and what I read was pretty awful. For example, it appeared that the number of people who died each year from esophageal cancer was about the same as the number who were diagnosed. I read about pain, suffering, and eventual death, but I didn't share any of this with Robert because I didn't want to scare him.

We went back for a CT scan on December 22. The pathology report had come back, and it was esophageal cancer. The initial impression was that the tumor had not spread outside of the esophagus. On that visit, we learned there was surgery for that type of cancer and that people did survive. We had been given a folder with information on esophageal cancer that Robert had read. Because of the miserable experience I had had on the Internet, I had been afraid to read anything in the folder, so I was somewhat relieved when I found out Robert would have surgery and his chances for survival were good. If I had just shared my initial findings with Robert, I could have spared myself my own worst fears. Our doctor set up a visit with a surgeon at Methodist Hospital and said we would be referred to an oncologist soon.

We went out to dinner that night to Los Cucos, one of our favorite restaurants, in a much better mood. I told Robert I couldn't imagine growing old without him. Talking with the doctor had given me hope that perhaps I wouldn't have to. I think that's what got us through that first Christmas.

I know people react to scary news in different ways. I cry easily. My grandmother used to say Fabers were born with bladders for tear ducts. Robert's family tends to be more in control of their grief. Initially, I didn't see anyone cry but me.

We had planned a trip to West Virginia to visit my parents and family, and we went. My parents were not doing well. They had been living in a rehabilitation facility since their accident at Thanksgiving. My dad had gone into the hospital shortly before Christmas. He was terribly dehydrated, and we weren't sure he was going to come out of it. My mother was delighted to see us, but she had Alzheimer's disease, which left her confused and often afraid. My siblings and I decided to bring her home as soon as I got there, and I learned that I could sleep in the same bed with my mother. At times she confused me with my dad by calling me John (his name), which creeped me out, but that was okay. We decided that we needed to find different facilities for my parents since they had markedly different needs. We put my dad in a combination rehab/nursing facility and my mother in an Alzheimer's facility. Since my parents had plenty of money, that was not an issue, and we were able to find top-quality facilities to care for them.

While we were in West Virginia, Robert had discussions with his GP. He wanted Robert to have a second opinion at MD Anderson, so we began the process of trying to get an appointment there.

There had not really been time to talk with anyone before we left for West Virginia. We returned, as planned, on January 3, before the new semester started. Now we had doctors' visits to look forward to as well. We told Robert's mother about his condition in person. I think because we were calm and optimistic, she was able to receive the news calmly (at least on the outside). We told Robert's other siblings by phone. The news spread fast to the rest of our families and to our friends and colleagues at work.

One of the things that really pissed me off right from the start was when people told me I needed to be "strong." I found throughout our journey that a lot of the time it was all I could do just to "hang on." I didn't plan my responses; I just reacted in the moment as best I could. What I didn't need was a bunch of well-meaning friends and relatives telling me I needed to be strong for Robert. Instead, I found that we were able to be strong for each other. Throughout our journey, there was never a time when one of us needed to support the other and wasn't able to do so. I call that a "God thing."

Speaking of God, I found that after Robert's diagnosis I had a problem connecting with God. As much as I could, I kept up with prayer several times a day and daily spiritual reading of some sort. I kept going to church as much as our schedule would allow. I could never feel God's response. I was afraid I was going to screw this up for Robert if I wasn't right with God. There is a lot of comment in the cancer community about the power of the spirit in the healing process. I was incredibly afraid that I would mess up the aura around Robert and hurt his chances of survival. With the council of my brother, Don, I began to realize that even if I wasn't feeling connected, there were lots of people praying for us. I had to trust in the idea that even if I couldn't find God, God was finding us. There were lots of "God" moments throughout our journey that couldn't be explained any other way.

I remember initiating sex several days after we found out about Robert's cancer. It seemed important to continue to live and love to the fullest throughout our journey. I also started to pay more attention to things Robert wanted to purchase or activities he wanted to do. We were both thrifty, but I was downright cheap. We started learning to live more in the moment.

When we finally learned more about treatment, Robert had me start a list of people to call after his surgery. I soon realized that it would be best to develop a distribution list. And so began the more "public" portion of our journey, which was shared through e-mail.

Here is an excerpt from the first e-mail I sent to the group on January 8, 2007:

Dear loved ones,

We visited a surgeon at Methodist Hospital on Wednesday last week whom we really liked. He ordered another CT scan (he just wanted a clearer picture) and a PET scan (which we are doing this afternoon). If the cancer has not spread, Robert will have surgery soon. This involves removal of most or all of the esophagus, and rebuilding the esophagus from part of the stomach. The surgeon told us to expect chemo and radiation (although it may not be necessary). If the cancer has spread, they may elect to do chemo and radiation before the surgery. Robert will be in the hospital for about two weeks for the surgery, and off work a total of six weeks.

Robert is young and fit, and has none of the problems that make this a difficult outcome. The surgery is invasive and takes time to heal, but we have every reason to think that everything will be fine. If I could just tell my heart

that ... Robert is doing great—I'm the one who's falling apart ...

Your prayers are appreciated. I just wanted you to know.

Love to you all, Dave and Robert

After another CT scan and a PET scan, which determines areas of "activity" such as the brain, the heart, and cancer, the surgeon from the Methodist Hospital, Dr. R, told us he thought the cancer had only spread to one lymph node. He found a nodule on one lung, but since it did not show up on the PET scan, he figured it was benign. His recommendation was to start with chemo and radiation concurrently for four to six weeks to stop the spreading and to shrink the tumor. A subclavian port would be inserted for the administration of chemotherapy. Then Robert would rest for another four to six weeks before having surgery, which would require up to six weeks for recovery. We were very pleased when he told us to go ahead and run the marathon.

Treatment for any disease is very confusing at first, but the learning curve is very fast. With Robert's cancer, there would be a "team" approach. The oncologist was the team leader. The surgeon would play an important role. We would soon learn about anesthetists, radiologists, and other cancer specialists. I had to hope that all these people would communicate well with one another. By the time we finally got appointments set for MD Anderson, it seemed like it had taken forever to get in the door. They explained to us that there was a problem with the holidays and being short on doctors at that specific time.

Of course, I sent the news out through e-mail. Although not everyone on our e-mail list was a blood relative, I began addressing the recipients as "dear family." They were each very dear to us and had been given to us as family, blood or not.

Here is the e-mail I sent on January 19, 2007:

Dear family,

Robert and I had a good day at Methodist yesterday. We were there from 7:45 a.m. until about 3:45 in the afternoon. The installation of the port did not take that long—it was just all the preparation and then rest afterward to make sure Robert was okay. He's fine. We will see the oncologist, Dr. S, in Kingwood on Wednesday next week. We also have a set of appointments for Thursday afternoon at MD Anderson. These are initial appointments to run all the tests Robert has already had done. We don't know which ones they will actually want to repeat.

Again, we were very impressed with the surgeon, Dr. R, at Methodist. Lots of people have recommended him to us. He spent a lot of time with both of us yesterday, and was very respectful of us, our relationship, and what this means to us. After all the tests and discussions, he met with his tumor board yesterday, and they are unanimously in agreement with his treatment opinions. If we stay with their recommendations, Robert will have about five and a half weeks of chemo and radiation. Then they will restage the cancer at that point with the same tests Robert has already had done to know the effect of the chemo and radiation. This will include endoscopic exams and CT and PET scans again. Currently Robert's stage is N1—that means 1 lymph node is involved.

After reviewing all Robert's tests, Dr. R told me for the first time yesterday that, although the tumor could have been caught earlier, this was still considered an early diagnosis. He said he believed Robert was going to be fine—and he told me he wasn't telling me that to make me feel better, he really meant it. He also wanted me to know that the treatment and surgery would not be easy—that we would both go through a lot. I know that we are up to the challenge.

It meant a lot to me to hear Dr. R say the Robert was going to be fine. You can't know how much your support and prayer means to us. Please keep it up.

Love to you all, Dave and Bob

Robert knew from the first visit that he wanted to be at MD Anderson. I might have wanted to think about it, but I knew right then (another God thing?) that my job was to support Robert in this decision. MD Anderson was huge. It occurred to me that we would get to know the place like the backs of our hands, and I hated the idea.

I started a list of people who had volunteered to drive Robert to treatments and doctors' appointments. Robert was more comfortable with people he knew, so when it came down to it, if he needed a driver, we used family members or people from my church. Sometimes he could take himself to the appointments.

Over the years, I had learned that time with Robert was very important to his family and that trips to the hospital were not an imposition. Rather, they were quality time spent with him.

The physician's assistant at MD Anderson had told us they would want to watch the nodule on Robert's lung throughout the course of treatment to see if it reacted like cancer. For example, if it shrank during chemotherapy, that would indicate that it could be cancer. However, in late January, the tumor board at MD Anderson decided they wanted to know definitively one way or the other about the nodule. If the nodule was cancer, it would change the recommended course of treatment, so they scheduled Robert for a preevaluation that would include a biopsy of the nodule. They decided to do a biopsy on the lymph nodule as well.

We found out that the biopsy on Robert's lung was benign. It was a great relief for me. We had a good visit with the oncologist (Dr. A—nickname "The King" at MD Anderson) and his nurse, Angela, and learned there would be one more combination PET and CT scan the next day. Since the previous one was over thirty days old, they wanted a more current size and position so they could more accurately assess the effect on the tumor as Robert went through treatment. They would monitor very carefully throughout chemo and radiation to make sure the treatment was working and make adjustments if necessary.

Nurse Angela was to be Robert's micromanager. Robert was to carry his cell phone with him at all times and have it on so that they could chat frequently. She told us she would become "the woman" in Robert's life. It worked for me ... He wasn't allowed to father any children while he was in treatment. That worked for me too. MD Anderson had a website that we could log on to and get all Robert's appointments. We needed to look often, as things changed frequently.

We learned later that Angela was a research nurse. Robert was in multiple research projects throughout his journey. Because he was in research projects, he needed to have all of his treatments at MD Anderson downtown. Nothing could be done in The Woodlands.

God brought us to many interesting people through this journey. Jody and Steve Schoger were acquaintances from The Woodlands Symphony Chorus, which I directed, and from church. They were both cancer survivors. I didn't know them well, but Jody became my new BFF on the Internet. Her advice was invaluable. Jody was the one who introduced me to the phrase "the new normal," though I hated it. She also taught me that the rest of our lives would be filled with "new normals." It was just a part of the process of growing older.

Jody sent us this e-mail on February 13, 2007:

Thank God for such wonderful news about the biopsy. I am so, so happy for both of you. I'm also really glad to hear the responsiveness of Robert's doctor and nurse. That is excellent. I haven't heard of any nurses as involved as Angela—you can get some rest now, finally.

Re: MDA scheduling. They do make mistakes, but I've found that the e-mail messaging via the website works well too. It is a terrific convenience for the appointment information. And, if you haven't had the chance yet, look up "A Place of Wellness" on the MDA website or when you are at the facility. It is a separate department for patients and caretakers to address the "other" aspects of treatment ... they have scheduled talks and "brown bag lunches," yoga, stress management, sometimes massages. I've attended a lot of things there and found it of enormous benefit. You enter the department from the street side (front) of the Clark clinic building on Holcombe.

Have a great time in San Antonio. The break will be more than welcome, I'm sure. Thanks again for the update. I've been thinking about you both a lot.


We did have a great time in San Antonio. I had gone on Wednesday for our state Music Educator's Convention, and Robert joined me on Friday evening. The weather was beautiful Friday night, and Robert was hungry, so we had dinner on the Riverwalk. On Saturday, we had time to tour the Alamo and parts of downtown San Antonio. Since it was our habit to buy ornaments on all of our trips, we bought a souvenir for our Christmas tree. The trip to San Antonio was something we had wanted to do together for years.

Robert had multiple final tests run the week before he began chemo and radiation. He met with the surgeon and the oncologist. He was very pleased with both meetings. The surgeon told him that he believed things were going to be fine. The surgeon also reiterated that if we had not found out about the tumor until Robert began having symptoms, a positive outcome would have been much more difficult.

On February 16, they put "tattoos" on Robert's body so the radiologist would know where to aim the radiation. One was at his sternum, and two more were under his arms. Crosses were drawn across each one, which we had to keep redrawing when they wore off. Robert joked that when he went to the gym, he was going to tell people he'd joined a religious cult.

Because Robert was a part of numerous clinical trials and research studies while at MD Anderson, it seemed that almost every time they took blood or urine, he had to sign paperwork to include his results in one of their studies.


Excerpted from Cancer: A Love Story by Dave Faber. Copyright © 2014 Dave Faber. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Acknowledgments, ix,
Prologue, xi,
We Begin, 1,
The First Bullet, 29,
Waking Up, 55,
The Long Road Home, 74,
Our Mothers' Love, 113,
Bliss, 142,
The Second Bullet, 157,
Back to the New Normal, 173,
Managing Pain, 189,
Loving Is Always a Blessing, 214,
Grace, 243,
Remembering Robert, 263,

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Cancer: A Love Story 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sweet and touching memoir , chronacling  Robert McGhee 's struggle with Esophageal Cancer.  Dave's touching narrative is mesmerizing, and reveals his abiding love for his husband, in Sickness and in Health.   I heartily recommend this work.